Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chicken Soup with Kneidlach

If you want to make Jewish-style chicken soup, the first thing to do is stop calling them matzo balls. The Yiddish word is kneidlach. But in any language, that's tasty! (*teeth sparkling*)

Here's how I made an awesome chicken soup for my wife, who is struck with a cold. And a 3.5 month old, but I'm not sure what we can do about the latter other than liberal applications of soup and baths. For the wife, not the baby.

Even if you prefer white meat like me, you can't get the flavor you're going to want from white meat. So build the base appropriately, and then if you want, you can cut up some pieces of chicken breast and just drop them in the soup before serving (bring to a boil, etc.).


1 fennel bulb
2 fennel fronds
3 celery ribs
2 carrots
3 chicken backs
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
chicken bouillon
2 tbsps flat-leaf fresh parsley
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
8 cups water (thanks, kristine)


Take out a dutch oven, crock pot, or similar-sized pot, and heat 1.5 tbps canola oil. After the pot is really hot, add the 3 chicken backs. You don't need to use chicken backs, really. Anything which has lots of nice marrow will work well. My mom always used drumsticks and thighs, but I've heard that chicken necks are excellent for building a broth. Yes, it's kind of gross, but it'll be worth it when you taste the soup, and you're not going to eat chicken backs or necks, anyway. Are you??!?

I'm not.

Let the chicken backs sear for 2-3 minutes, turning to prevent burning. While the sear is going on, build a classic mirepoix in a medium saucepan. This entails a rough chop of the carrots, celery, and yellow onion. One of the nice things about chicken soup is that it's chunky. No need to blend or puree the soup at the end of the process. Heat 2 tbsps olive oil in the saucepan, add the vegetables, and brown on moderate heat, stirring frequently. Add a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper.

Chop the four cloves of garlic and add them to the searing chicken backs. If you like more garlic, add more. This ain't a prescriptive exercise. Add the 2 fennel fronds to the pot, and rough chop the bulb for the mirepoix. Add the fronds to the pot and the chopped bulb to the saucepan.

Add the tarragon vinegar to the pot, which will help untstick any of the chicken backs (the cooking term is deglaze). Add the 1/4 cup of white wine, which is a classic deglazing tool in French-style cooking. Turn the heat off the mirepoix, and add it to the pot with the chicken backs.

Add 4 quarts 8 cups of water to the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, and add the chicken bouillon to taste, but be ever aware of overseasoning. Use it judiciously, because the flavors and oils from the chicken backs and the marrow will really give the broth a nice taste. Once a rolling boil is reached, turn the heat down to low and simmer for approximately two hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, make the kneidlach. Notwithstanding my insistence on fidelity to terms, it's just so much easier to use a mix than grind fresh matzah into meal, etc. So, my instructions for the kneidlach are as follows: buy the mix. Follow the directions on the back.

Just don't serve the water in which you boil the kneidlach instead of the soup. My father did that once, on Passover, no less.

If you like noodles, grab a handful of whatever you like, and bring the soup back to a boil. Try to keep the top covered so you don't let too much liquid evaporate, as that could affect the balance of seasonings.

Remove the chicken backs, or don't remove any meat if you used drumsticks and thighs. Add the pieces of chicken breast if that's your bag, and make sure they're cooked through before turning off the heat.

Ladle a kneidlach or two into a bowl of the soup, sprinkle some fresh parsley on top, and serve. Challah on the side is always a good thing. If you're serving it to your sick wife, add some bright flowers. I chose snapdragons. Not to the soup. Add them to the tray upon which you serve the soup.

Feel the knots in your soul unwind, heh heh.


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